Avengers: Infinity War may be the most successful film to ever recreate the feeling of reading an event comic. Characters are grouped in unexpected combinations to highlight individual personalities. A truly impressive foe puts them off their footing. The groups split up and head off on different missions in the hopes of ending the threat this awesome foe represents and … oh, the next couple of points are spoilers.
In fact, even a short plot synopsis would constitute a spoiler. Suffice to say Infinity War details Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) quest for the Infinity Stones and the various Avenger teams dedicated to thwarting him. Sections take place on Earth and in space. Some long standing plot threads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are resolved while new ones are revealed. And like any epic crossover comic, there are places where the massive cast leave certain characters undeserved while promoting others to a baffling level of relevancy. In a comic book storyline, it would eventually lead to a spin-off comic book, but in Infinity War, it tries to feed into the main thrust of the film; which could create a dissonance for viewers unfamiliar with the characters or their historic storylines back in the comics.
Meanwhile, the film certainly has fun with the party atmosphere in bringing together nearly all of the characters featured in Marvel Studios films thus far. Groupings like Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) lead to a lot of fun interactions. The space sections mirror the feel of Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok both in the joke department and color palette. Also, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fits right in with the overall tone of Guardians.
But the party atmosphere occasional threatens to undermine the stakes and the threat of Thanos. Indeed, the switch from certain story threads to the Mad Titan can lead to a certain tonal whiplash, particularly in the middle of the film. Curiously though, the conflict between Marvel’s happy-go-lucky reputation and the serious aim of Thanos proves to be an interesting element of the film as a whole. A lot of that success can be attributed to Brolin’s motion-capture and vocal performance as Thanos. Instead of a cackler or underwhelming mirror of the hero, the character reveals surprising amounts of depth. His true aim, as he explains it, almost sounds compassionate and humane. Then you remember what he is trying to accomplish and it becomes truly horrifying when you catch yourself sympathizing with him. And there will be times when Thanos, thanks in part to Brolin and the script, is definitely sympathetic.
Returning to the feeling of the event comic, the film is stuffed with battle scenes. And though every single one is executed brilliant by directors Joe and Anthony Russo and their massive crew, the shear number of fights can also be off-putting. But if you care enough about the character featured in the fights, it should be enough to pull the viewer through the length of the film. Also, one fight in particular stands above the rest, but revealing which would also be a spoiler.
For most of the film, the experience of Avengers: Infinity War will resemble the thrill of “Bedlam at the Baxter Building!” from Fantastic Four Annual #3. Both feature a grand union of Marvel’s myriad characters and the sense of celebration; though in Marvel Studios’ case, the cause for celebration is pulling off ten years of united film continuity and making a film in which [redacted] and Captain America (Chris Evans) can stand side by side without looking ridiculous. Then, there is a surprising switch which will dominate the discourse in the weeks to come.
To that point, some may walk away from the film a little unsatisfied; particularly if they are familiar with event comics and what may lie ahead in the fourth Avengers film. Nevertheless, Infinity War is a largely enjoyable addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with much to offer hardcore fan and occasional viewer alike even as it inspires one or two eye-rolls.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now.